“Is tribal identity relevant in today’s world?” Inaugural Speech for “Tribes In Transition-II: Reaffirming Indigenous Identity Through Narrative” (National Conference 2017) – New Delhi

Dr. Ivy Hansdak – Assistant Professor, Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia University New Delhi (27th February 2017)

Dear and respected Vice-Chancellor of Jamia, Prof Talat Ahmad, respected Guest of Honour, Prof. T.K. Oommen, respected Keynote Speaker, Prof. Virginius Xaxa, respected Prof. M. Asaduddin, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Languages, JMI, respected Prof. Ameena Kazi Ansari, Head of the Department of English, JMI, my dear colleagues, friends and research scholars, a very good morning to all of you !

Three years ago, in March 2014, the first ‘Tribes in Transition’ Conference was held at Shantiniketan amidst the undulating greenery of West Bengal and in collaboration with a tribal NGO, the Ghosaldanga-Bishnubati Adibasi Trust (GBAT). The Conference being held today is a continuation of that because both are meant to celebrate tribal identity and to spread awareness of the Angst being felt among the tribal people of India in recent times, an Angst caused by their exclusion from traditional rights over resources and aggravated by extreme deprivation and exploitation at various levels.

Tribal identity has been foregrounded in this Conference because I believe this issue has been shrouded in polite silence for too long. While benefiting from affirmative action in some cases, Adivasis or indigenous people in India also feel the claustrophobic confines of their identity which has been imposed on them by others, be it the colonial administrator, the colonial anthropologist, the missionary or the neo-liberal, neo-imperialist forces that rule global economy today. This Conference will strive to change our ways of looking at the Adivasi so that identity becomes a source of strength and celebration, instead of shame and silence.

Let me begin by asking a very simple and somewhat naïve question: Is tribal identity relevant in today’s world? This question holds many answers and every answer brings us to many more questions. As a beginning, let me quote from GN Devy’s seminal anthology of tribal literature, Painted Words:

“In contemporary practice, the tribal memory is greatly undermined. There is general insistence that tribal children attend schools where non-tribal children attend schools, that they use medicines manufactured for others and that they adopt common agricultural practices. All because the world has very little time to listen patiently to the tribals, with their immense knowledge and creativity. We have decided that what is good for us is good enough for them. In the process we are destroying a rich vein of our cultural heritage. Tribal communities are distinguished by the absence of the caste system or any other form of discrimination, and respect for every member of the community can be seen in every aspect of their lives. Among tribals, widows are not ignored, raped women are not stigmatized and orphans are not left to beg. Tribals do not exploit other people’s labour for the sake of their own avarice, nor do they destroy nature to build monuments to the human ego.”

With these few words, I welcome all of you to the ICSSR-sponsored National Conference on “Tribes in Transition” Part II and wish you a memorable stay at Jamia Millia Islamia Central University. Johar !

Source: Report for the ICSSR-sponsored Two-Day National Conference Tribes In Transition-II: Reaffirming Indigenous Identity Through Narrative organised by The Department of English & Outreach Programme Jamia Millia Islamia (New Delhi, 27-28 February 2017)

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

Read the Concept Note and download the full report here >>

Objectives of the conference:
While grappling with the issues of tribal and indigenous identity, culture, history and narrative, the Conference will address relevant questions such as: What is the outcome of the interface between oral tradition and modernity? What is ‘tribal imagination’? What is the tribal sense of history? How can tribal oral traditions be preserved in the digital age? How does contemporary tribal literature compare/ contrast with the traditional genres? Why do tribal and indigenous narratives suffer from low visibility within mainstream academia? What is the significance of tribal and indigenous characters in mainstream narratives? How does the perspective of the ‘outsider’ differ from that of the ‘insider’? Finally, the Conference will try to connect with grassroots workers and activists working on problems of healthcare, education, employment and human trafficking among the tribal and indigenous communities of India.

Courtesy Dr. Ivy Hansdak, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Jamia Millia Islamia University New Delhi (email 4 October 2017)

Publications on the above issues may be found here (title descriptions and libraries):

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Research the above issues with the help of Shodhganga: A reservoir of theses from universities all over India, made available under Open Access >>

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